With Comic-Con attracting more than 170,000 fans to San Diego this July, Alex Spencer looks at how mobile has helped revitalise the comic book industry ou might not have heard of Comixology, the comics industry’s answer to iTunes, but it’s a mobile success story. Selling comics issues to be read in-app, Comixology was the top grossing non-gaming app on iPad for three years running between 2011 and 2013. To date, it has been installed somewhere north of 1m times on Android alone, and according to a 2013 survey, its users spend an average of $100 (£75) each year, and 25 per cent spend over $400 (£310). So it’s perhaps unsurprising that in 2014 the company was snapped up by retail giant Amazon. It wasn’t the first digital comics platform, and it’s not the only one operating today, but it’s certainly been the most successful. Much of that comes down to one simple fact: Comixology is a mobile-first business.
Secret origins Digital is helping to diversify both the content and audience for comics
According to its survey, 80 per cent of Comixology users read their comics on
a tablet, and 36 per cent also read on a smartphone. The reason for tablets’ dominance, out of line with overall adoption, is the nature of comics themselves. An iPad is more or less exactly the same dimensions and, unlike a PC monitor, the same orientation as a single comics page. It’s not too difficult, then, to convert a comic into something that’s readable on a tablet. Trying to squeeze a full-size comic created for print onto a smartphone, though, leads to a poor experience for readers who don’t fancy giving their pinch-and-zoom muscles a work-out or straining their eyes squinting at tiny text. Comixology made its name by finding a way to make comics work on smaller screens too, with Guided View, its so-called ‘panel-to-panel reading system’. This breaks the comic’s page up into smaller chunks, presenting a single image at a time – in comics terminology, a single panel – which users can easily swipe between. “Just reading a comic on an iPhone was